Success with Native Seeds
Timing is everything! The following is speculation based on decades of observation & seed starting.
I would suggest you look to acquiring your seed in the fall, fresh seed sown same season yields the absolute best results. Most of the native seed has to cycle through its program before it is triggered to germinate. The seed usually drops in the fall after a warm cycle, to go through a couple months of cold, to germinate at warm. Seed stored (I believe) goes into a deeper dormancy if that program is interrupted. If you get the seed in the spring, that was harvested the previous fall, I find that it still wants to go through that warm, cold, warm cycle again. Now that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as the seed is stored in cool dark conditions, and mine is replaced yearly with fresh, so you would think that once you get it in the ground, soil, in spring exposed to spring fluctuating temps it would be triggered to grow. I’ve found over and over again that unless you sow the seed fresh same season, the seed ‘wants’ to wait until that programmed cycle is complete. There are of course exceptions, but with the harder to germinate seed, I’ve been finding my theory is coming true.
This is frustrating period. It’s harder to keep pots going for years, tags go missing, pots get wonderful layers of moss in my area, not to mention the slugs and mice smorgs. Seeds do have a way though, which fascinates me to no end. I’ve got a couple pots of ??, with growth in them, that are not weeds, but no tags. This is year 3 for them and now they are growing. Great but what are they?? I keep long lists of seed sown so I may be able to track it down that way. In these pots is seed acquired from a seed exchange (’19), the seed was received in January and did not get sown until early March ’20. The seed did not go through its program properly, so stayed dormant until that was met, all through ’21, and now germinated this spring of ’22. Timing is everything, and so is patience.
Short lived seed, even more important that you get that seed same season. Thalictrum, clematis and sweet cicely come to mind. Both thalictrum and sweet cicely have to be sown in the same season as harvested. Excellent results in germination if done, zero germination if not. Clematis is slightly more forgiving but fresh seed sown on time yields the best results. I’ve spent a pretty penny over the years on clematis seed and gotten very little out of it. Mastering the germination of native clematis occidentalis has been wonderful. And now I have too many! The burden of abundance.
The Cold Frame and Why You Want One
I love my cold frame.
My cold frame was inexpensive to build, 7 years ago. The window frame top was scored from the local glass shop for free. A couple hours of work and ta da, my cold frame.
The cold frame offers a level of protection and control for starting seeds that require fluctuating temperatures in order to germinate. I can sow my seeds in pots, get them all settled in, place them in the cold frame and wait. Ideally a lot of these pots go in in the late fall. First snowfall the lid is opened and I get a good amount of snow in for insulation. Lids get closed and I can pretty much forget about it until spring. I don't have to worry too much about critters, mice & squirrels can be an issue if that's the environment you live in. It keeps out cats, dogs, deer, moose, bears, cows, horses. :)
I do try to check out the contents at least twice over the winter, especially if we get some warm spells. For the most part there is nothing to do but wait for spring. I would also note that when germinating seeds that require a cold period, you want to try to give them 3-4 months of cold to trigger sprouting.